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The Power of Doing Nothing When You’re Frustrated or Anxious

Stressed man meditating

“This ‘doing nothing’ is not a cold, passive resignation, but is a luminous, sacred activity, infused with presence and a wild sort of compassion. It is a radical act of kindness and love.” ~Matt Licata

I am storming home after work.

The important men in my life are driving me bonkers—they’ve been self-important, disrespectful, condescending jerks.

My dad doesn’t see the value in the work I do, and my partner blew off our date to take an important phone call. My younger brother leapt off of the phone with me, which he’s been doing every time I’ve called in the last year.

I am taking furious, short breaths, and hardly noticing each step.

My mind races with things I could say to show them just how in the wrong they are. I rocket between being spiteful and feeling sorry for myself.

A woman my age walks toward me, carrying two bags and nursing a baby. I move aside to let her by and accidently make eye contact with her little girl.

She gazes at me unblinkingly, no expression on her small, round face. She doesn’t react to my momentary presence in her world; she just looks at me.

Our eyes meet for only a moment, and then they are both gone. That look has stopped me in my tracks and drained me of all my struggle. I’m standing there on the sidewalk, feeling totally empty of the fury that possessed me a few seconds earlier.

That emptiness makes me lightheaded, and I stand for a moment, swaying in the dusky light. I’m suddenly aware of my breathing, of the tightness in my abdomen and hands. For the first time, I notice what a whipped-up tower of smoke and rage I’ve become.

I make eye contact with myself, as if I’m now the wide-eyed babe, lying on my mother’s chest.

I’m filled with compassion for myself. I become aware that the anger I was feeling is also anger at myself for not hearing and responding to what I want—for putting my needs last, for being judgmental and self-righteous.

This awareness washes over me in a wave of feelings, more so than thoughts. I experience anger, sadness, and finally the comfort of being heard. Someone is listening to me—I am listening to me.

. . . . .

I regularly encourage my girlfriends to take more time for themselves, to move more slowly through choices and transitions, to make space in their heads to really hear themselves.

I don’t want to wait for a wide-eyed magic babe to spook us back into our own experience. I want us to be intentional about it.

Through meditation, I can sometimes create space to hear myself. But many of my friends are fast-paced, creative women who have a hard time sitting still. Meditating is simple, but not easy, and especially for these active types, “doing nothing” is something that has to be eased into.

Walking has been an incredible space-creator for me, as has writing.

At the beginning of both of these pursuits, I am filled with chitter-chatter—the daily bushwhack through the swamp of self-judgment, fear, and worry.

By being intentionally aware of my surroundings when walking, and my words when writing, the fog of my heavy thoughts begins to lift. Eventually I am purely in the experience—noticing the birds and the flowers, and the feeling in the bottoms of my feet, or simply connecting word to word, sentence to sentence.

To maintain a connection to the physical world around me and the spiritual world within me, I practice both writing and walking for an hour every day. Sometimes, it’s an uphill battle and I end up feeling totally defeated. But most days, at least a shimmer of my true self shows up during my practice, and I feel blissfully at peace.

. . . .

The lesson I learned that evening, when I saw the baby and her mother, was that how I’m feeling just is.

Most of my frustration and anxiety comes from trying to fix the way I’m feeling, to somehow “solve” it. As soon as I settled into the experience of being angry, the anger itself just sort of melted away, and my true desires became apparent.

A friend and I were recently speaking about “looking straight at things” rather than seeing them out of the corner of your eye and avoiding them. We were discussing negative body-talk, anxiety about work, and the emotional discomfort that often leads to overeating.

She told me, “If I could just look straight at the part of me that wants a bowl of cereal, I would see that I’m actually nervous about an upcoming presentation.” The urge to eat more when she’s already full is disguising the discomfort of feeling over her head at work.

My intense anger at the important men in my life was disguising the true discomfort that stemmed from over-working myself, not prioritizing my own self-care, and putting others’ opinions of my life before my own.

A curious experience with a tiny stranger was enough to shock me out of my thoughts, bring me back into my body, and allow me to really hear myself.

That moment reminded me how to be present and to give myself the time and space to understand my inner needs.

I extend this same reminder to you: In whatever way is easiest for you, start being present to yourself by doing nothing. I challenge you to lie on the couch, sit on the bench, or meditate; allow space for your true hopes and fears to bubble up into your conscious mind.

As Matt Licata says, this is a “radical act of kindness and love,” and we each benefit from showing ourselves that loving kindness.

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About Lily Calfee

Lily Calfee has inspired countless women to treat themselves to only the best in their relationships, careers, and self-care. As a Creative Health Coach, Lily currently spends her time helping women radically transform their lives. You can find her at www.IdealNourishment.com. Visit her blog for more inspiration and download your free copy of her Introduction to Intuition workbook.

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  • mathildamoon15

    Wow. Can I just say I’m a huge fan of your writing style? I never sign up for blogs, but I signed up for Ideal Nourishment just now. Anyway, your post reminded me of a moment I had the other day, where I very deliberately, consciously drew myself *in*. I suffer from anxiety, which typically lands, of course, on things outside of my control, like $$, my partner’s behavior and such. I was so worked up the other night that I tried this experiment of almost forcefully going within, quickly and without reservation. I lay down, closed my eyes, and visualized my energy shrinking, shrinking, to just outside of my body. It was wild. I actually felt physically different. Since then, I’ve struggled a little bit with anxiety, but I’m generally in a much better place. I’m definitely adding this *pulling in* to my repertoire. It makes me wonder if anxiety isn’t simply an over-inflation, over-expansion really, of one’s energy? Hm. Peace to you and your readers! 🙂

  • Lily Calfee

    Wow, my heart just grew two sizes reading this! I love it that my words helped you create that physical experience. I agree with your thought that anxiety might just be an over-inflation of our energy. I’m interested to hear what this practice brings to your life.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful writing, and inspiring post!!! Thank you for such a wonderful message, and much needed reminder! 🙂

  • Fartrell Cluggins

    Love this! I’ve been trying this more and more, even if it’s just a few minutes to myself, (preferably outside) and it does wonders, especially for all the monkey-chatter in my brain after a busy day. Thanks!

  • Joel Scott

    Beautifully written Lily. Thank you for sharing your thoughts

  • Lily Calfee

    Thanks Joel! I appreciate the feedback.

  • Lily Calfee

    Glad to hear it landed with you.

  • Lily Calfee

    I’m happy to hear that my writing inspired you! You can read more of my stuff at http://idealnourishment.com/blog/